Voigtlander: The Modern Cosina
Why be a lamb if you can be a wolf?
Cosina has had a long and diverse history of manufacturing photographic cameras and lenses. Some products were great innovations, while others were mediocre mass-market products made for consumer use. One of those innovative products from the 1980s was Cosina’s integrated AF 75-200mm f4.5 zoom. All the AF electronics were incorporated into the lens, allowing AF operation with any AI or AIs manual focus Nikon body (among others). The concept was terrific, but the operational part could not compete with the speed of an experienced photographer. The system was slow and not very precise; typical of the technology of the time.
Cosina’s ability to produce quality did not go unnoticed by larger companies, and a great portion of their business relied on collaborations with the big brands, supplying them with lenses and camera bodies.
Various internet articles have credited Cosina’s president Mr. Kobayashi for his vision in turning Cosina into a world recognized high-quality optics firm. Mr. Kobayashi must have observed shifts in trends with more and more manufacturing being outsourced to China and an ongoing trend of quality compromises by manufacturers. So why should Cosina compete with large volume, low quality producers?
In 1999 Cosina acquired the rights to the legendary Voigtlander name, this bold marketing strategy was created to distance new products from old "Cosina" quality perceptions. The new high-quality optics were launched under the reputable Voigtlander brand name. Cosina’s partnership with Zeiss in 2005 was a further boost establishing Cosina as a top of the line optics manufacturer.
I recall the press release that Zeiss was going to release lenses in various mounts including the Nikon F mount. This uplifting news could not have come at a better time, I recall the ongoing frustrations with hit-or-miss Nikkor quality control and the need to make several purchases, with returns and trades, in order to obtain a viable good copy of a lens.
The whole concept of getting a “good copy” of a lens was and is still generally accepted but is totally ludicrous. At some point in time consumers and professionals started accepting and footing the bill for poor quality control in manufacturing.
Cosina focused on manufacturing the quality that major brands were abandoning, knowing well that the professional market would embrace lenses without AF or VR functions. Cosina made lenses for Zeiss and further developed the Voigtlander line in a multitude of mounts. The line of Voightlander lenses in Nikon F mount included the 12mm f5.6 Super Wide Heliar, 15mm f4.5 Super Wide Heliar, 20mm f3.5 Color Skopar, 28mm f2.8 Color Skopar, the 40mm f2 Ultron, the 58mm f1.4 Nokton, the 75mm f2.5 Color Heliar, 90mm f3.5 APO Lanthar, 125mm f2.5 Macro APO Lanthar, and 180mm f4 APO Lanthar.
Despite the excellent optical and build quality, some lenses did not garner much interest in Nikon F mount and Cosina discontinued them. This was most likely due to the fact that Cosina was responsible for marketing and distribution the line. Many photographers were never exposed to the brand or its quality products.
Currently only the 58mm Nokton and 40mm Ultron remain available in Nikon F mount, but these lenses have been upgraded both cosmetically and electronically. The lenses now resemble early all-metal Nikkors in either silver/black or all-black versions. These also incorporate an electronic chip which allows communication between the camera and lens facilitating exposure modes with modern DSLR models. Voigtlander lenses are officially sold and distributed by PhotoVillage in New York (https://www.photovillage.com/manufacturers.php) and are the only outfit to offer warranty service.